By Amy Wells
The School of Theater presentation of Charles Smith's award-winning play "Knock Me a Kiss," begins tonight with the first public performance, showcasing students alongside accomplished actor and alumnus David Toney. Next stop, New York.
Directed by Shelley Delaney, head of the professional actor training program, "Knock Me a Kiss" is a fictional account, inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois's daughter Yolande's marriage to Countee Cullen, one of Harlem's great poets. The marriage was considered the high point of the Harlem Renaissance. It united the daughter of America's foremost black intellectual and cofounder of the NAACP with the young poet whose work was considered to be one of the flagships for the New Negro movement.
Officially opening on Friday, the production's public performances run tonight through Saturday and May 14 through May 17 at 8 p.m. in the Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater in Kantner Hall. There will be an additional matinee performance May 17 at 2 p.m.
Toney will act in the role of W.E.B. Du Bois alongside student actors. Smith, who is head of the playwriting program and nationally acclaimed for his work, explained that he knew the role of Du Bois needed a mature actor, and was delighted when Toney joined the cast.
"It's been a real pleasure working with David," Smith said. "I'd met him about 10 years ago in New York City when he was auditioning for another one of my plays, and to reconnect with him in this way has been a really rich experience."
Toney's participation also has had an impact in many ways, according to Delaney.
"First and foremost, he is powerful evidence that it is not only possible to survive, but to thrive as a theater artist. Working with a working actor is empowering, particularly when that actor graduated from the place you're currently studying."
He's also pushing the students to excel.
"David is setting an incredibly high standard of hard work, creativity, commitment and risk in the rehearsal process, and the students are following suit," Delaney said. "He has a seemingly unlimited pool of new ideas, and he is inspiring the students to take greater risks because of that."
Delaney built time into the rehearsal schedule for Toney to work with each of his student castmates individually. The work has deepened their commitment while polishing their performances, Delaney said.
But this is no ordinary School of Theater production for more reasons than Toney's performance. With the support of many faculty members and an 1804 Grant that was awarded in 2007, the play, and potentially many of the students, will be performing at the off-Broadway Theater for the New City. The production is tentatively scheduled at the lower east side New York theater in January 2009.
"The production of 'Knock Me a Kiss' in Athens and its subsequent production off-Broadway will provide our students -- both graduate and undergraduate -- the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the highest-caliber theater artists in the country in one of the most dynamic and exciting theatrical and cultural centers in the country, New York," said Robert St. Lawrence, technician-lighting director in the School of Theater and one of the 1804 Grant recipients.
Smith explained that the New York performance was the collaborative effort of many faculty members including Delaney and Ursula Belden, head of production design and technology.
"Ursula Belden has been working a lot to increase Ohio University's visibility in New York City and thought this was a great opportunity," Smith said. "As the writer, I'm just sort of along for the ride, but the collaboration has just been delightful."
"Knock Me a Kiss" was originally produced by the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in 2000. It won the 2000 Black Theater Alliance Award for Best New Work and was nominated for the 2000 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work.
Admission is free for Ohio University students, $8 for seniors and other students, and $10 for general admission. Tickets are available by calling 740-593-4800 or visiting the College of Fine Arts ticket office in Kantner Hall.
To speak with a media representative regarding this story, please contact Amy Wells at 740-597-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.